Are Italy On The Verge Of A Golden Era?

How things have changed in the space of three years.

After shockingly missing out on the World Cup in Russia, the Azzurri have bounced back with aplomb – securing a place in the final of Euro 2020.

Moving away from their traditional roots of defensive-minded football, the Italians have dazzled throughout the competition while also surviving stiff tests in the form of Belgium and most recently, Spain.

Now, a blockbuster final awaits against England in-front of what promises to be a hostile Wembley Stadium crowd.

Whichever way the pendulum swings come Monday morning; Roberto Mancini has put in the building blocks to ensure their run to the final was not an anomaly. 

There is no doubting Italy have regained their status as a global powerhouse but now it remains to be seen if they can back it up with maintained success.

Could this team potentially not only take home their first European crown in 53 years, but also do it all again in Qatar and beyond?

Let’s take a look.

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Age profile at a glance

Holistically talking, this is a very young squad with an average age of 27.7

With only eight players over the age of 30 and one over the age of 35, the majority of this squad will be around come the next World Cup and future international tournaments.

Giorgio Chiellini is the only player over 35 and despite showing no signs of slowing down – eventually Italy will need to look beyond the Juventus central defender going forward.

The likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Nicolo Barella, Federico Chiesa and Manuel Locatelli are all under the age of 25 and are expected to make up much of the core for the next decade.

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Goalkeepers

Put simply, Italy are in very safe hands between the sticks for the next two decades.

Gianluigi Donnarumma is arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world and has showcased his premium shot-stopping abilities throughout the tournament with some masterful displays.

On top of that he is fresh off a season where he was recognised as Serie A’s best goalkeeper award for his efforts at club level where he had a league best 14 clean sheets.

The former Milan shotstopper brings a rare blend of experience and youth with over 250 senior appearances at only the age of 22 – meaning there’s every chance he has still not reached his peak and will be part of the Italy setup for tournaments to come.

Beyond Donnarumma, Mancini is blessed with superb goalkeeping depth in the form of Napoli’s Alex Meret and veteran Salvatore Sirigu who are more than capable options should the former be out of action.

Centre-backs

It’s the area of the ground which for so long presented no concern for the Azzurri – but their talent pool is starting to run thin.

Among their five central defenders at the Euros, Italy has an average of 29 with only Inter’s Alessandro Bastoni being under the age of 23. 

Despite showing no signs of decay throughout the Euros, it’s no secret that Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are in the latter stages of their career at both 36 and 34 years of age respectively and will eventually need replacing.

Their regularly used deputies, Francesco Acerbi, 33 and Rafael Toloi, 30 are also not getting any younger.

Bastoni, however, has shone for the Nerazzurri in the past two seasons with his passing ability and defensive acumen which has even seen him being labelled “Chiellini’s heir” by Premier League winning boss Claudio Ranieri.

Next in line is out-of-favour Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli, 26 and Roma’s Gianluca Mancini, 25 who face important seasons to try break back into the team.

Full-backs

Heading into the Euros, the full-back position was arguably Italy’s weakest but has since become one of their greatest strengths following the impressive campaigns of both Leonardo Spinazzola and Giovanni Di Lorenzo.

The duo, including Emerson and Alessandro Florenzi are aged 30 and under and are expected to still be part of the set-up going forward.

However, the untimely Achilles injury to Spinazzola has opened a position at full-back with Davide Calabria front of the line for the call-up.

Calabria, who after a breakout campaign was unlucky not to make the final squad due to injury has showcased his versatility – playing on both flanks despite being naturally a right-back.

The 24-year-old ranked second at Milan last season for recovered balls (191), key passes (21), tackles won (184) and first for interceptions (67).

Midfield

You would be hard pressed to find a deeper pool of midfielders in any national side.

Italy’s midfield reeks of youthful exuberance and immense talent, not only in the seven who ended up in the final squad but beyond that as well.

Remarkably, among their midfielders at the Euros, none are over the age of 30 with Jorginhothe eldest of the bunch and showing no signs of slowing down.

It’s been well documented how well the likes of Marco Verratti, Nicolo Barella and Manuel Locatelli have all performed these Euros – with all being among some of the standout players of the tournament.

Last-minute call-ups, Matteo Pessina and Gaetano Castrovilli are both only 24 with the former in particular shining in his limited minutes with his ability to hit the scoreboard.

Bryan Cristante, 26 has also been solid as an extra defensive midfielder brought on to maintain leads late in games.

Lorenzo Pellegrini and Stefano Sensi, the two players to miss as a result of untimely injuries, are also supremely talented attacking midfielders who are still 25.

Arguably, the most naturally talented of the lot is Roma’s Nicolo Zaniolo who after successive knee injuries is on the road to recovery.

Zaniolo, 22, is one of Italy’s brightest prospects with his versatility allowing him to play anywhere in midfield or attack – plus having a rare mix of size and pace for a midfielder.

Attack

Much of Italy’s attacking hopes going forward reside in their spectacular winger corps.

Lorenzo Insigne has been one of the players of the tournament backing up his spectacular season at Napoli (19 goals) with a sensational campaign for the national side – averaging 2.4 key passes a match and adding two goals himself.

Federico Chiesa has turned heads throughout the knockout stage with match-winning performances against both Austria and Spain and is still only getting better at age 23.

Domenico Berardi and Federico Bernadeschi remain in the mix with the former being Mancini’s first-choice on the right-hand side before losing out to Chiesa.

However, Italy has a glaring issue up top with their strikers being unable to back up their solid club form on the international stage.

Ciro Immobile, who has been a goalscoring machine at club-land has yet again failed to replicate his feats in the capital for Lazio – going cold after two goals in the group stage.

His back-up Andrea Belotti has not hit the scoreboard in any of his appearances but has age on his side and like Immobile faces the task of turning his international form into something which resembles his form at clubland. 

Beyond the aforementioned, much of the Italian future front-line revolves around 21-year old duo Giacomo Raspadori and Moise Kean who surprisingly missed out after scoring 13 goals for PSG last season.

Verdict

It’s quite clear that Italy is on the precipice of something special.

Not many national sides have had maintained success in the modern game with only Spain being able to clinch consecutive bits of silverware throughout 2008 to 2012.

However, this side is best placed to continuously challenge among the world’s best with many sides including England, Spain, France and Portugal setting themselves up nicely for the years to come as well.

Italy, like every other nation have issues they need to rectify, in particular with their centre-back depth and misfiring strikers which Roberto Mancini will oversee heading into Qatar.

Perhaps the most exciting part is that they’re primed to not be a one and done job.

They have the age profile and the talent to do it. Now it’s just a matter of remaining consistent which will only put them in the best possible position to forge another golden generation.

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Nick D'Urbano

Nick D'Urbano is a freelance sports writer. Throughout Nick's career, he's worked for numerous multimedia companies in print, radio and TV. Currently, Nick covers the A-League, W-League, AFL and AFLW for News Corp Australia's Newswire along with co-hosting Twilight Football on FNR Football Nation Radio. Nick won the Antenna Award for the 2019 Youth Personality of the Year for his work on Channel 31's AFL talk show 'The Rushed Behind.

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